Dan Howdle | April 25th, 2023
BT and Virgin are two heavyweights of the broadband world. They are among the most popular providers in the UK and operate on separate networks. Virgin has long been renowned for its insanely fast speeds, but BT is more widely available and now also offers ultrafast speeds on the Openreach network. So how do you choose between them?
We've weighed up how the pair compare when it comes to speed, packages, customer service and technology to help you decide which is right for your household.
Here's a quick feature comparison on how BT and Virgin Media stack up.
|Virgin Media broadband
|Top download speeds
|Up to 900Mbps
|Up to 1.1Gbps
|Top upload speeds
|Up to 110Mbps
|Up to 52Mbps
|Ofcom compensation scheme
With the introduction of the Advertising Standards Authority ruling, broadband providers can now only advertise speeds that are available to at least 50 per cent of their customers, and as a result, some different, considerably lower, numbers have appeared. BT now offers 36Mbps with its Superfast Fibre Essential, 50Mbps with its Fibre 1 and 67Mbps for Fibre 2. For those that can get it, BT also offers ultrafast speeds of 150Mbps, 500Mbps and 900Mbps.
In comparison, Virgin offers 50Mbps, 100Mbps, 200Mbps, 350Mbps, 500Mbps and its top speed of 1130Mbps (which it refers to as Gig1), meaning it is still faster than BT. In fact, Virgin Media can legitimately claim to be the UK's fastest widely available broadband – with its 1130Mbps Gig1 service available to everyone on its network. Virgin is able to offer these speeds because it has its own cabling network, rather than relying on Openreach.
For the time being, Virgin Media is more widely available than BT’s Full Fibre packages,so customers looking for ultrafast speeds are more likely to get them with Virgin. However, this is set to change in the next few years as Openreach continues to roll out full fibre rapidly.
Virgin gets the points on this one as its basic speed of up to 50Mbps is still faster than anyone else's entry-level speed. Read our guide on what you can do with a 50Mbps connection to see if it's the best speed for you. It is worth remembering that these are only advertised speeds and as Virgin has its own network it will only offer you the level it thinks it can provide based on where you live. Having said that, in general, Virgin Media's speeds are very close to those advertised, if not faster.
You can get BT broadband on six different packages. It starts with Fibre Essential with speeds averaging 36Mbps, then Fibre 1 with an average speed of 50Mbps and Fibre 2 with 67Mbps. Then it offers its ultrafast packages of Fibre 150, Fibre 500 and Fibre 900 for those that can access the full fibre network. BT no longer openly advertises its standard broadband service of 10Mbps as this is only offered to customers that cannot get fibre.
All BT's deals are unlimited and come with a pay-as-you-go phone plan as standard, although you can choose to have a broadband-only plan with no phone line usage. Customers that still use their landline can choose to bolt on either 700 minutes or unlimited minutes per month, for an extra fee. All customers get access to BT’s free Wifi hotspots across the country. All BT’s contracts are currently for 24 months.
In comparison Virgin Media is more flexible than BT, offering both 30-day and 18-month packages. Virgin also offers six fibre speeds, starting with M50, with an average speed of 54Mbps. It also offers M125 (average speed 132Mbps), M250 (average speed 264Mbps), M350 (average speed 362Mbps). It also offers M500 (average speed 516Mbps), and its fastest speed of 1,130Mbps, known as Gig1.
Both BT and Virgin Media offer customers the choice of broadband-only or broadband and phone deals, and both offer a lower price to those only wanting broadband. However, with its greater availability, faster speeds and shorter contract options, Virgin Media wins when it comes to packages.
According to Ofcom's most recent customer service survey, BT excels in customer service, with 88% of customers satisfied with the service overall, that’s above all other providers and above the sector average of 83% .
Just 18% of customers had a reason to complain, and of those, 55% were satisfied with how the complaint was handled – again, the top score of all providers surveyed and above the sector average of 50 per cent.
When it comes to call waiting times, the average wait time for a BT customer is a modest 1 minute 46 seconds, which is shorter than the sector average of two minutes and 16 seconds.
In comparison, Virgin did relatively poorly, coming last in the survey with just 78% of customers satisfied with their service overall, and 23% with a reason to complain (again, the lowest rating of all the providers surveyed). Of those who did have an issue, only 45% were happy with how their complaint was dealt with – somewhat below both BT and the sector average of 50%.
For a Virgin customer waiting to get through on the phone line, the average waiting time is a rather long three minutes and 45 seconds – over twice as long as the average wait time for a BT customer.
According to Ofcom’s research at least, BT is clearly doing a far better job of keeping its customers happy than Virgin Media, so in this area, BT wins.
As speeds get faster, the hardware has to improve in order to keep up and Virgin wins on this front by the recent introduction of its Hub 5 router, which is wifi 6 enabled – the latest standard in wifi technology to support the ultrafast speeds now offered.
All BT Fibre customers will be sent a Smart Hub, (or a Smart Hub 2 if you sign up for Complete Wifi) which brandishes seven antennas to find the best frequencies for the top speeds. This dual band router uses smart scan technology to provide the optimum connection for all your devices, and also constantly monitors your internet connection and if it spots a problem, it will quietly reboot and make a fresh connection.
Virgin provides its Hub 4 to all customers, apart from a lucky few who will be upgraded with the aforementioned Wifi 6 enabled Hub 5. The dual-band Hub 4 comes with four ethernet cables for wired connections and has 11 antennas which should help boost your speed as well as the reliability of your signal. Like the BT Smart Hub, it also has four ethernet ports for connecting some devices by a cable.
Customers looking to improve their wifi signal to reach all through their home will want to consider a mesh network. Happily, both BT and Virgin Media offer a solution. BT’s Complete Wifi system provides you with a number of booster discs to place around your home, and Virgin Media offers its Wifi Pods that do the same job. Both systems are available at extra cost to your home broadband service.
Both BT and Virgin Media offer good routers, and complementary wifi-boosting hardware, but Virgin Media has the edge with its Wifi 6 Hub 5, even though it has not yet been rolled out across all customers.
BT provides virus protection in the form of BT Virus Protect with all its broadband packages for use on individual devices. Customers also get Web Protect, which covers all devices connected to your wifi from viruses, scams and phishing attacks.
You also get parental controls and BT Cloud, which gives you up to a whopping 1000GB free storage, depending on which package you choose.
All BT Broadband customers can watch BT Sport free via the BT Sport app or via the website, although they will need to subscribe to a BT TV package in order to watch it on the TV. Customers also all get free access to five million BT Wi-fi hotspots around the UK.
Virgin Media offers similar extras. You will get virus protection using F-Secure on up to five devices for a small monthly fee, and parental controls using Web Safe. Customers can use free Virgin Media wifi in bars, restaurants and UK airports.
Customers looking to bolt on a TV package are likely to find what they want with either provider, although BT does have the edge by including NOW TV Entertainment with its TV packages – including Sky Atlantic. Virgin offers everything but Sky Atlantic as Sky is still not letting its biggest competitor get its hands on its premium channel.
Both are pretty tied on this one. You get the usual virus protection and parental controls as well as access to public WiFi. BT can go one better by offering storage and free access to BT Sport on its app. BT WiFi is also far more widely available than Virgin's.
Although Virgin Media has a more widely available ultrafast network, it really falls behind on customer service. In comparison, BT shines in that department, and although the Openreach network doesn’t currently have the same reach as Virgin’s, it is growing rapidly and will soon be a formidable competitor to Virgin across the country.
In conclusion, we would say, if you want ultrafast speeds and you can only get Virgin Media, then go for it, but for those who can get BT and Virgin, we would say, choose BT.